The Philharmonia Orchestra of London has announced initial details of the 160 concerts which make up its 2008-09 season – Esa-Pekka Salonen's first as Principal Conductor and Artistic Advisor.
A multi-disciplinary project based around the music and culture of Vienna between 1895 and 1935, the completion of the orchestra's celebration of Messiaen's centenary, and the return of old friends – such as Muti, Schiff, Mackerras, Ashkenazy, Dohnányi and Maazel, plus Alfred Brendel's last-ever concerts in the UK – are the main themes of a generally strong line-up.
Salonen opens the season on 23 September 2008 with a gala performance of Stravinsky's opera-oratorio Oedipus Rex, with soloists including Kyle Ketelsen and Andrew Kennedy (formerly of the Royal Opera's Young Artists Programme). Then on 28 September, he will conduct Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto (with soloist Hélène Grimaud) and Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique.
After a break of a few months, Salonen returns on 28 February 2009 to conduct Schoenberg's Gurrelieder, inaugurating a partnership with the Vienna Konzerthaus that will present the music of Mahler, Schoenberg, Zemlinsky and Berg in its historical and social context. Galleries and museums in London, Vienna and New York will be collaborating on the project too, allowing the Philharmonia to explore the art, craft, design, architecture, literature, philosophy and science of the period. Salonen will conduct all the concerts, which will take place in more than twenty cities worldwide over a period of eighteen months, and there will be complementary educational events and online resources to broaden audiences' engagement with the music.
Celebrating the music of Viennese composers of this period is hardly an original idea – Claudio Abbado famously led a festival called 'Mahler, Vienna and the Twentieth Century' with the LSO in 1985 – but it is good to see the level of Salonen's commitment to the Philharmonia and the orchestra's efforts to reach people in a variety of ways. Later in the 2008-09 season, Mitsuko Uchida and Christian Tetzlaff will be part of the festival; the repertoire will include Zemlinsky's Lyric Symphony, Schoenberg's Kammerkonzert and Mahler's Sixth and Seventh Symphonies.
A few months ago, the news that legendary pianist Alfred Brendel was planning to retire this year came as a shock to his many fans, and his two final concerts in the UK are bound to be a sell-out. The Philhamonia has the honour of accompanying him on the last stages of his extraordinary artistic journey. On 12 October 2008 he will join Sir Charles Mackerras at the Royal Festival Hall to perform Mozart's Piano Concerto in E flat (the 'Jeunehomme'), K.271, alongside Haydn's final symphony and Dvořák's Eighth; two days later the programme will be repeated at The Anvil, Basingstoke.
It's delightful to see Mackerras in evidence so often this season. In addition to the concerts with Brendel, he joins forces with Sergei Khachatryan on 9 October for Bruch's First Violin Concerto, alongside Dvořák's Seventh Symphony and Mozart's Thirty-Ninth. Early February brings two programmes of Mozart Piano Concertos, Elgar's First Symphony and Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony. He also closes the season with a programme of Mozart with Maria Joao Pîres, Beethoven's Egmont Overture and Brahms' Second Symphony.
Following on from the news that Gustavo Dudamel will be bringing his sensational Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuala to the Festival Hall for a residence next April, it emerges that he'll also be in the UK in February for two concerts with the Philharmonia. On 17 February he is joined by Vadim Repin in a concert that includes Lalo's Symphonie Espagnole and Rachmaninoff's Third Symphony, while on 21 February he will conduct Emanuel Ax in Mozart's Piano Concerto No 17 and Mahler's Fifth Symphony.
Another exciting aspect of the season is Christoph von Dohnányi's first performance as the Philharmonia's Honorary Conductor for Life. In October he'll conduct two programmes including the Eroica and Sibelius' Violin Concerto (played by Frank Peter Zimmermann) on 26 October and Bruckner's Fourth Symphony on 30 October. Then on 10 May he returns with the New World Symphony, followed by Brahms' First Symphony on 14 May. This is all typical Dohnányi fare, of course, but it is comforting to see the orchestra's consolidation of their relationship with their former Principal Conductor.
Other highlights of the season include the continuation of the orchestra's Messiaen and Vaughan Williams celebrations, the former conducted by the composer's student George Benjamin (autumn 2008); Lorin Maazel in music by himself, Shostakovich and Sibelius (2, 5 and 7 April 2009); the world premiere of Dai Fujikura's Piano Concerto; Philippe Jordan in Brahms, Beethoven and Schumann (19 and 23 April); Nicola Luisotti in Verdi, Prokofiev and Tchaikovsky on 22 January 2008; and a splendid series of concerts with András Schiff, who will celebrate the bicentenaries of Mendelssohn and Haydn in June, including a performance of Haydn's Cello Concerto with Miklos Perenyi.
It has been quite a week for London orchestral news, with the announcement of the LPO and LSO's seasons, plus the Southbank's Classic International series. With the LPO and particularly the LSO relying heavily on Russian music next year, the Philharmonia has a strong emphasis on the Austro-German repertoire (leavened, it has to be admitted, by the works of the big Russian symphonists, and thus overlapping with the other two main orchestras' programmes). American, French, Spanish and Italian music, choral works, new music, Early music, British music and indeed any music outside the canon is either very sparsely distributed across the season or non-existent. So while I'm as fond of a strong performance of Mahler Five or Mozart's piano concertos as anyone else, and am glad that we have such a wealth of orchestral talent in our capital city, I can't help but wish for a shake-up of the main London orchestras' regular repertoire.
See also our preview of the London Symphony Orchestra's 2008-09 season here.
See also our preview of the Barbican's Great Performers 2008-09 season here.
And read our preview of the London Philharmonic's 2008-09 season here.
Also see details of Welsh National Opera's 2008-09 season here.